Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New iPods

Apple will introduce their new iPod line today. 

The size and scope of the iPod ecosystem of late has led to reliable leaks of case prototypes and so on. The form factor of Nano v.3 looks to be like the original version, but with more screen and less plastic. It is predicted to be roughly the same thickness. Unless it doubles in thickness, this dimension is unlikely to be problematic.

Some are hoping for the end of the scroll wheel on the Nano.  Case prototype leaks accommodate a wheel, and all in the same location, too, so such a change has a vanishingly small chance of occurring. An all-screen Nano is still some time away, my rational mind tells me. 

My hope and speculation, though, is that a virtual scroll-wheel, enabled by a multi-touch motion, possibly only available in a certain area on the Nano, will allow for an all-screen device. I doubt this will happen. If it does, it will signal a line bifurcation, into Touch and Classic, just as the iPod was so cleaved

Apple cannot cede the commodity MP3 player market as it does in PCs. Apple is dominant in mobile music, and must compete in all volume markets. Apple may create markets, say for $300 full-screen Nano-sized devices, but it cannot neglect the $100-$250 market. Apple has said the Mini was and Nano is its largest seller. Besides the obvious advantage of selling a lot of profitable players, Apple must control this segment to give itself economies of scale, and defend walled iTunes kingdom.

The iPod Classic will probably get cheaper and thinner. The former is to differentiate it from a suddenly cheap iPhone, the latter just a guess because Apple does that kind of thing.  The 80GB may even get the axe, replaced by a 160GB that fits into its case, and costs the same. I doubt will see a more capacious iPod. First off, it seems pointless, but that might just be me. I haven't read that any larger drives exist in 1.8in, either. Apple always gets first crack at the Toshiba ones, and also seems to be able to keep a lid on their PR, so who knows? More colors or a (Red) tie in have me uninterested.

The Touch might get really interesting, but I actually think nothing will be done to it tomorrow. The invitation to the event was definitively old-interface in style. Perhaps this was only to avoid spurious iPhone hype, but the Touch is so much an iPhone, that it simply incurs trickle-down from that product line. The Touch will get a price cut, sure. Maybe it will get some colors and a curve like the current iPhone, but I see Apple sticking with the mirrored back as a differentiator. 

What would be a very effective move, politically, would be some Apple Accessory love, like a really good sheath that has a D-pad and some buttons. The company wants to make the iPhone/Touch a mobile gaming competitor. The industrial design of the hardware is not conducive to this. Every game company gives guidance to coders, and reliable operation, through their industrial design. Nintendo may have revolutionized mobile gaming with the DS, giving developers an incredible, unprecedented, canvas, but even they included hardware control interfaces. Apple cannot now add buttons, of course, but they could achieve a soft-standardization with a good sheath. "Fit this if you want, stay playable without it...", and all that.

If Steve Jobs looks unhealthy, I will be sad, for myself, as he is a living hero of mine, as well as for the world. Decades more of Steve Jobs influence on Earth can, I believe, be quite beneficial for the human race. 

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